I’m someone who likes to plan ahead of time (it’s a “J” thing in MBTI hahaha). Anyway, so I’m planning to buy a new keyboard when my current wired keyboard dies. It’s a really cheap keyboard so some keys have faded and the left shift key isn’t working (I have to use the right shift key).
My current wired keyboard is a mechanical keyboard. I bought it because it was cheap and I was gaming then. But I’ve stopped playing MMORPG so I don’t really need a mechanical keyboard anymore. In fact, I use a membrane keyboard in the office (most laptops use membrane keyboards). And the experience is really different.
So I’m thinking to upgrade my keyboard to something that fits my needs. And this is when the dilemma occurred…
Should I get a mechanical or membrane keyboard?
Before I jump into the factors to consider when choosing between mechanical and membrane keyboards, let’s understand what each keyboard is.
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Mechanical keyboards have been around longer. They use a spring-loaded mechanism to press a physical switch. Due to these spring-loaded switches, mechanical keyboards have this tactile and auditory feel—a distinct key feel. You’re more likely to feel and hear it when typing.
For mechanical keyboards, you can choose from 3 different switches
- Linear: quiet
- Tactile: moderate noise
- Clicky: loud click
Linear switches are smooth and consistent. Tactile switches produce a tactile bump which is satisfying for some people since they can hear and feel the keys. Clicky switches produce a loud audible click with each keystroke. Just note that if you work in a public space, people might find this irritating or distracting.
On the other hand, membrane keys press down on a thin membrane layer to a conductive circuit underneath. Therefore, they feel mushy when typing. Membrane keyboards are usually made up of plastic materials which make them lighter and more portable.
1. Travel Distance
One of the factors you need to consider when choosing between mechanical and membrane keyboards is travel distance.
Travel distance refers to the actual distance the keys of a keyboard have to be pushed down before the keystroke is recognized.
Traditional mechanical keyboards usually have a travel distance of 4 millimeters from top to bottom. On the contrary, membrane keyboards have a travel distance of 2 millimeters or less.
If you like hammering on the keys, you can consider full travel keyboards. Such keyboards will prevent accidental keystrokes. They also cushion your fingers from hard presses.
Low travel keyboards will require less pressure and effort to press the keys down. But sometimes, it’s difficult to know when a key is being pressed down because there’s not much tactile and auditory feedback.
If you enjoy writing using a typewriter, I think a mechanical keyboard will be more suitable for you. On the other hand, a membrane keyboard will be more suitable if you don’t like to use too much pressure when typing.
Due to the switches, membrane keyboards are the quietest, followed by mechanical (linear), mechanical (tactile) and lastly, mechanical (clicky) keyboards which are the loudest.
Noise is another factor you need to consider when choosing between mechanical and membrane keyboards.
If you write in public spaces like a café or if you write at night (when your family and roommates are asleep), you may consider getting a membrane or mechanical (linear) keyboard. This way, you won’t disturb other people and incur their wrath. However, if you live alone or have your own workspace, you can consider getting louder keyboards.
For me, I need silence. I can’t hear music (not even instrumental music) when writing my manuscript. Thus, I prefer quiet keyboards.
Do consider the weight of your keyboard which affects the portability.
As mentioned earlier, membrane keyboards are lighter because they’re made up of plastic materials. Some people might prefer heavier mechanical keyboards because of their sturdiness.
Also, note that keyboards can be full size or compact. If you frequently input numbers and use the number pad on the right side, a full size keyboard might be more suitable. Let’s say you’re an accountant in the day and a writer at night. If so, a full size keyboard will be more suitable. If you like writing on the go, you might consider getting a compact membrane keyboard. This way, you can easily carry it around with you everywhere you go including the living room or a café.
Studies have shown that mechanical keyboards last longer than membrane keyboards. Mechanical keyboards can last around 50 million keystrokes while membrane keyboards can last from 5 to 10 million keystrokes. In fact, some mechanical keyboards have lasted for more than 10 years!
If longevity is a key factor for you, you might choose mechanical keyboards over membrane keyboards.
5. Wired vs Wireless
When choosing between mechanical and membrane keyboards, you also need to decide whether you want a wired or wireless keyboard. Here are some pros and cons:
(+) Less connectivity issues like input lag or risk of interference
(+) Don’t have to worry about battery life because you’re plugged in all the time
(-) Wires might be annoying for minimalists who want a clutter-free workspace
(-) Less portable: you can only use the keyboard within the length of the cable
(+) Excellent mobility: you can use your keyboard over long distances
(+) No irritating wires that mess up your desk
(-) Ok for most keyboard users but might be slow for gamers who need lightning-fast reaction speed
(-) Requires charging
Also, note that if you use multiple devices when writing, a wireless keyboard might be more suitable. For example, let’s say you use your Windows desktop to write your manuscript in Microsoft Word but use your MacBook to format your book in Adobe InDesign. In such a scenario, a wireless multi-device keyboard will allow you to easily switch between Windows and macOS. This is less tedious than using a wired keyboard where you have to continuously unplug and replug.
Ever heard of backlit keyboards?
Backlit keyboards are illuminated keyboards that contain light underneath the keys. This backlight illuminates the letters and symbols on the keys to make them visible in low light environments. The print on the keys is semi-transparent, so the light underneath will shine through it like a window. Such keyboards are useful if you’re working in environments with low lighting.
If you write late at night or early in the morning, do consider getting a backlit keyboard. This way, you won’t have to squint your eyes or guess what you’re typing. Or worse, make numerous typos because you can’t see the keys.
Bear in mind that backlight isn’t an exclusive feature of membrane keyboards. There are mechanical keyboards with backlight too!
Some keyboards leverage advanced technology like sensors. Proximity sensors can detect your hands. So when your hands are close (eg. hovering over the keyboard), the keyboard will automatically light up. Ambient light sensors can adapt the keyboard’s brightness to your environment. These sensors will measure current lighting conditions and automatically adjust the keyboard’s backlight based on the amount of light in the room.
And of course, let’s talk about cost.
Membrane keyboards are cheaper than mechanical keyboards due to the plastic materials used.
If you’re looking for an affordable keyboard, a membrane keyboard will be the right fit.
I would recommend that you start with a budget. Think about the maximum amount that you’re willing to fork out for a keyboard. From there, choose the keyboard that falls within your budget.
Also, do look out for promotions. Black Friday and Cyber Monday, for instance, have many great deals, especially for tech stuff.
Alternatively, you can consider getting a second-hand keyboard instead of a new one.
Bonus Tip: Get Mechanical Keyboard If You Game
As mentioned earlier, mechanical keyboards are more tactile and durable than membrane keyboards.
The biggest advantage that makes mechanical keyboards more suitable than membrane keyboards for gamers is that the former is faster. Mechanical keyboards offer faster response times which is essential when you’re gaming. Timing is critical whether you play first person shooter (FPS), racing or MMORPG games. And your keyboard might just be the key to whether you die or survive in the game!
Hence, I highly recommend that you get a mechanical keyboard if you game in your spare time. Such keyboards can also handle heavy and constant pressing of keys when you’re gaming.
Bonus Tip: Get Ergonomic Keyboard If You Write A Lot
As a writer, you might have heard of carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition occurs when one of the major nerves in the hand — the median nerve — is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist. This results in numbness, tingling and pain in the hand and forearm. In most patients, carpal tunnel syndrome gets worse over time.
Research shows that if you type less than 20 hours per week, you probably won’t get carpal tunnel syndrome. However, if you type more than 28 hours per week, you’re more likely to have an increased risk for the syndrome.
If you write a lot (whether thousands of words or many hours a day), I recommend that you get an ergonomic keyboard. Ergonomic keyboards are designed with ergonomic considerations to help minimize muscle strain and fatigue. In addition to solving arm and wrist pains, these keyboards also improve your back posture. Ergonomic keyboards, which are designed for two-handed typists, are typically constructed in a V shape and thus, allow the hands to rest at a more natural angle.
Now It’s Your Turn
There’s no right or wrong answer. The best keyboard depends on your needs. So choose whatever floats your boat~
P.S. I bought a membrane keyboard last month due to Cyber Monday sale. I’ve been eyeing this wireless keyboard for the longest time. Love its quietness and backlight! ❤️